Now that’s what I call an essay crisis

Like many other graduates without a meticulously structured career plan post-university, the jarring need to move onto the next big thing came as something as a shock. I moved into a new house, convincing myself that my degree meant any spell of unemployment was likely to be an aberration and nothing more, but as the days turned to weeks, desperation crept in. Never kind to ditherers at the best of times, the post-recessionary job market put a large dent in my jejune optimism. Everything was taking a long time to materialise – all except for the bills, of course. They were always punctual.

It was during this period that I had the name of a well known essay-writing site mentioned to me – the ones that write essays for order for paying students. The deal seemed a good one. Freedom to work from home – or indeed, wherever I wanted, and a salary which could reach £500 per week. The greatest appeal was, however, to my vanity – after countless knockbacks it seems I had finally found an employer who was willing to give creative license to my professional intentions.

When I mentioned my new employment to my flatmate, he was appalled, citing the undermining of academic integrity, and the effects on inequality which such sites engender. Now, I can’t pretend that I took seriously the statement provided by these sites which emphasised the purely guiding role these ‘sample’ essays were meant to perform, but I didn’t see clearly in those early days who I was harming in the course of my late night writing sessions.

As my argument ran, the essays of the length I was writing would be unlikely to be coursework, and that marks for such things could never make up a substantial proportion of the student’s overall grade. Tutors would easily catch out exceptionally advanced work, and furthermore, I reasoned that essay-writing was so conducive to the learning of the subject that the students lazy enough to pay the money would show themselves up badly in exams, thus not disrupting the meritocratic principles of the academic system. This stance was to take a beating in the weeks that followed, as it became clear from the information submitted along with the briefs which I was bidding for, that the pieces were assessed, that some did count towards their overall grade, and finally, that one was a dissertation.

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My disillusionment was compounded by the particulars of the site’s policy when bidding for briefs. I was contacted by an employee of the company who wanted me to know in what kind of academic areas I specialised. I realised later that the reason for this was their desire to work out which writers were most abundant, and thus the lowest price they could offer and still have the work written. This seemed the only plausible explanation for how some more esoteric subjects could offer vastly higher fees than more common ones for essays of similar length.

The deadlines offered by the site were also unrealistic. Thousands of words were expected within a one-or two day timeframe. This of course played into the hands of the company, whose terms of service allowed them to confiscate the entire fee if the brief was late by more than 48 hours. Panicked by the impending deadlines I faced, I resorted to a combination of research chemicals and not sleeping in order to complete them. This in turn made me irritable during the day, and resulted in terrible interviews for the few jobs I could still apply for. I became a mess – snapping at my housemates, sleeping in the day, and my eyes ached from all the time I was spending with the computer screen.

The last straw for me was an experience which vividly brought home how little these sites value their writers, and how powerless they are in the face of the contract they sign. I applied for and got a brief which turned out to be a dissertation. Vowing to myself that it was going to be the last piece of work I would do for the company, I set about writing it.

It soon became clear that the deadline was insufficient. Two weeks was always going to be optimistic when my masters dissertation had taken me two months, but I noted that the client’s deadline was not for many months yet. I begged for extensions to be made, only to find that instead of reasoning with the client in what should have been a matter of common sense, the company seemed instead keen to pander to the client’s every whim, vigorously chasing me up and even threatening me with refunding the client and making me legally liable for the value of their payment.

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Nor did my problems end once the work was handed in. For weeks afterwards, the company refused to pay my invoice – amounting to £400 – citing a list of their client’s demands which had nothing to do with the original specifications of the project. As anyone who’s struggled on a low wage can attest to, losing £400 from a month’s wages is serious business. It caused me immense inconvenience having to ask for money from friends and family, but I was completely powerless in the face of the contract I had signed.

So I worked my way through the alterations, only to find that there was seemingly no end in sight. Bizarre requests for redrafting continued to hit my inbox. Eventually enough was enough, and I terminated my service agreement with the company, asking for part settlement of my fee for the article at the modest rate of two thirds of its original value. I have yet to receive anything, however. Each email I send is met with a sneering reply which alludes to deductions and potential legal action for my refusal to carry out more work for free.

My advice: consider well the contempt with which they hold their writers, and steer well clear. I am now making a living teaching my subject part-time, and I haven’t looked back since.